RATS IN THE TREES: Stories by Jess Mowry


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Nine interrelated stories about a runaway boy who survives for a time in inner-city Oakland--in a less-than-polished first collection, but one that evocatively creates a milieu where almost everyone is either in trouble or on the edge. Robby is a 13-year-old black who leaves Fresno by bus (""Welcome to Oakland"") because he's going to be sent to a foster home. But he discovers quickly (""One Way"") that ""The ocean was just as worn-out and thrashed as everything else. . .""; and meets fat Donny (""I figure everybody gots somebody they wanna kill""), who explains the local gang scene: drugs, violence, exploitation. ""Passing Rite"" brings an outsider, Chuck, into the neighborhood (as a staffer at the local center) so that we can get some sociological perspective: ""they were a new and primitive race evolving fast from garbage."" They attend ""War Zone Elementary or Death Camp Jr. High."" Then Robby is finally accepted by The Animals, who are involved mostly with skateboards and beer, though drugs and violence are also prevalent. In ""Perv,"" the gang beats up a guy from ""Silicone land"" who tries to pick up one of them; and in ""Fire,"" Robby gets a gun and shows up well in a firefight. The predictable finish fast approaches: in ""Wolf-Boy,"" Eric, with the gift of prophecy, looks into the future: ""we old kids already. . . But we nuthin', man. We goin' nowhere""; and in ""Werewolf Night,"" Robby is killed, and life goes on when Eric takes his skateboard. An honest look into an ugly, depressing scene: Mowry's style is rough, but the nicknames, slang, and jive ring true. Finally, then, it's a book more interesting for sociological than for literary reasons.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1990
Publisher: John Daniel